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Government to make minor changes to 20A to stave off protests

WELCOME – Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and Secretary-General Dhammika Dissanayake welcome President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa to Parliament House for the inauguration of the Ninth Parliament/PMD

ECONOMYNEXT – Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene is due to officially reveal the determination of the Supreme Court with regards to the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution which was challenged before the Supreme Court by 39 petitioners earlier this month.

The determination by the Apex Court as to whether the government can amend the constitution with a two-thirds majority in Parliament or should go before the people for a referendum to make the proposed changes will be announced today.

Days, after the official document was delivered to the Speaker by the Supreme Court, a set of papers purporting to be the determination, was leaked online. Lawyers and legal experts EconomyNext spoke to were confident that the leaked papers were genuine scanned copies.

In that the determination the SC appears to allow the government to make the major changes granting extraordinary powers to the President, allowing him to appoint judges, select ministers including the Prime Minister and dissolve parliament within a year of election.

However last night several ministers emerging from the regular cabinet meeting said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had agreed to several changes to the original proposal

These changes came as a wave of protests swept the country with leading political and religious figures ranging from the Buddhist Monks to Catholic Bishops strongly objected to some of the clauses that diminished the power of Parliament.

Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya activists protest against 20th Amendment

Education Minister Prof G L Peiris said yesterday that three changes would be made at the committee stage of the debate.

They are:
1) Extend the period when the president can dissolve parliament to two and a half years since the election date. In the current constitution, this period is four-and-a-half years
2) Allowing citizens to file FR cases against President as in 19A
3) Including the President and Prime Minister’s office by name to the clause which government institutions which can be audited by Auditor Generals as in 19A

Other Ministers told reporters last night that the clause which gave the executive powers to rush Bills through Parliament in a week would also be changed so that only laws that are needed for National Security or Disaster Management could be included.

The major points of contention by Human Rights activists and Opposition Parliamentarians in the 20A which allows the Executive to wield power over the appointment of Judges to the high courts and the downgrading of the Constitutional Council to a Consultative Committee will remain unchanged.

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The other provision in the 20A which allows dual citizens to hold political office also will remain unchanged, although Nationalist Groups which supported the government virulently opposed the idea.

The independence of the Commissions such as the Police Commission, the Audit Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Right to Information Commission may also not be retained as the appointment of the Commissioners will be made solely by the President. (Colombo October 20, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana with additional reporting by Imesh Ranasinghe

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